Book: Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux; Score: Various. At: Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-935-6100 or www.milliondollarquartetlive.com; $25-$95. Runs through Jan. 17
Hey procrastinators! Million Dollar Quartet, officially "Chicago's longest-running Broadway musical," is closing up shop in the Windy City after running more than 3,000 performances in seven years.
Yet Million Dollar Quartet didn't officially become a Broadway musical until 2010. Inspired by the 1956 December night in Memphis, Tennessee, when rock legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins came together for a studio jam session at Sun Records, Million Dollar Quartet debuted regionally in 2007 at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington, and also played Florida's now-defunct Seaside Music Theater.
Yet it was the successful and critically acclaimed Chicago launch of Million Dollar Quartet in 2008 at the Goodman Theatre that truly put the musical on the map. Producers soon transferred the show for an open-ended run at Chicago's 450-seat Apollo Theatre.
A concurrent New York production of Million Dollar Quartet came next in 2010, giving the show an official Broadway label. Out performer Levi Kreis won a featured actor Tony Award for his portrayal of the surly and ambitious Jerry Lee Lewis. The musical transferred off-Broadway to save on production costs in 2011, and almost lasted an extra year there.
I'd previously seen Million Dollar Quartet off-Broadway, but missed it in Chicago. It's still playing like a better-than-average jukebox musical, with just enough drama involving narrating Sun Records founder Sam Phillips ( Andy Ahrens ) trying to keep his remaining stars signed to his scrappy and pioneering label. This plot framing device keeps the show from becoming a celebrity impersonation revue.
Yet what truly impresses about Million Dollar Quartet is how it deploys skilled actor/musicians to rock out in the starry roles. There were no slouches performance-wise between Brandon Bennett as Elvis Presley, Colte Julian as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Lee as Johnny Cash and Shaun Whitley as Carl Perkins. Zach Lentino and Patrick Morrow consistently offered great and youthful backing support respectively on bass and drums, while veteran cast member Kelly Lamont returned to offer a smart and sultry take on Elvis' fictionalized romantic love interest, Dyanne.
Now if only Kai Harada's blaring sound design was toned down. Many of the show's lyrics are garbled, and there's a whiplash effect from all the volume shifts between the dialogue and over-amplified songs.
Once Million Dollar Quartet closes in Chicago, the show will live on via its Las Vegas engagement and the current non-Equity national tour before regional productions start cropping up. So see this long-standing part of Chicago theater history while you can locally, even if earplugs might be advisable. You'll also get the chance to personally ponder why the Windy City embraced this show for so long.